What is Ansible — How it works, and what are its uses?

What is Ansible — how it works, and what are its uses    


In the modern IT department, we want to automate installation and configuration processes as much as possible. Multiple apps, in-service coordination, and many other methods require your IT department to oversee many operations simultaneously.  

That is why many organizations choose to automate these processes by using Ansible. In this article, you will learn what Ansible is and how your company’s IT department can use it to improve your organization’s overall efficiency.     


What is an Ansible automation platform?   

The Ansible platform can be defined as a platform that IT professionals can use to automate processes normally taking up valuable time and resources, such as application deployment, server updates, or provisioning.  

One of the most significant advantages of Ansible automation is it’s cross-platform, meaning it can run on various platforms or operating systems without an issue. This allows Ansible to function the same way across different platforms, making it an excellent choice for IT specialists working with environments relying on other operating systems.  



How does Ansible work?   

Ansible automates various processes necessary for IT by using a system of nodes. The Ansible utilizes two different nodes for its automation — the managed and control nodes. The control node is the key and the most important to use Ansible. The device generally runs Ansible, controlling other nodes by sending out various commands, thus effectively automating selected processes.  

In Ansible, the “managed host” refers to the device that receives instructions from the “control node.” The control node uses modules like programs to send out commands to all the managed hosts. Ansible uses the modules to automate all the tasks necessary and contain the details on the desired state of the automated processes. After executing the modules, Ansible deletes them so they won’t take up the required space.  

Modules are contained in what is referred to as a playbook in Ansible. The playbooks have tasks, which in turn include individual modules. You can execute several actions by running a single playbook on your host machines.  

However, one of the strongest sides of Ansible is its ease of customization. Ansible comes with many default modules, including some of the most commonly used functions, allowing you to easily automate several essential processes right out of the gate. Additional tasks can be easily programmed using Python, allowing your IT specialists to automate any necessary functions without problems.   


Why should you use Ansible?      

Ansible is a reliable method of automating various processes, which would otherwise be required to be done manually, which is usually error-prone, and resulting changes cannot be easily tracked when performed on multiple systems. Using Ansible comes with several benefits, which can significantly lower the overall workload of your IT team, allowing it to focus on more important tasks and use your company’s resources more efficiently. Some of the most valuable features of Ansible include the following:    


  • Agentless architecture   

Ansible’s agentless nature sets it apart from other automation tools, eliminating the need for installing dedicated agents on managed systems. This makes Ansible installation and usage straightforward. With no additional software to maintain on each machine, it offers great convenience for managing large-scale infrastructures. From a single machine, you can leverage Ansible to handle servers, network devices, and cloud instances. This makes it an ideal solution for IT operations and DevOps teams seeking to automate tasks, minimize manual effort, and increase efficiency. Ansible utilizes the secure shell protocol (SSH) to connect to remote machines, ensuring both ease of use and secure communication without exposing systems to potential threats.   


  • Cloud platform orchestration   

Cloud orchestration with Ansible offers several advantages, especially when dealing with dynamically changing environments. One of the critical benefits of Ansible is its ability to adapt easily to changing infrastructure. With extensions available for creating dynamic inventories, Ansible enables you to automate real-time processes without manually updating your list of machines. This is especially useful in cloud environments where resources are continuously generated and depleted. By using Ansible, you can ensure that your automation processes are always up-to-date, even as your infrastructure evolves. Additionally, the dynamic inventory feature allows you to quickly and easily manage new resources as soon as they are created, making it a flexible and powerful tool for cloud orchestration.  


  • Declarative Language  

Ansible uses a declarative language called YAML (Yet Another Markup Language) to define the desired state of a system. Instead of specifying the step-by-step procedures to achieve a form, you describe the final shape you want, and Ansible figures out how to reach it.  


  • Playbooks  

Ansible playbooks are files written in YAML format that describe the automation tasks and configurations to be executed by Ansible. Playbooks serve as the primary building blocks of Ansible automation. A playbook consists of one or more plays, each defining a set of tasks to be performed on a specific group of hosts. Modules can perform various functions, such as installing packages, configuring services, copying files, executing commands, and more. Instead of focusing on step-by-step procedures, playbooks embrace a declarative approach, allowing you to describe the desired final state of the system. In addition to tasks, playbooks can include various other sections such as variables, conditionals, loops, handlers, and roles. These features enhance the flexibility and reusability of playbooks, enabling you to create dynamic and modular automation workflows.  


  • Operations  

Ansible is designed to be idempotent, meaning you can run the same automation tasks multiple times without causing unintended side effects. Moreover, Ansible can execute tasks in parallel across multiple hosts, efficiently managing large-scale infrastructures. It can handle thousands of nodes simultaneously, helping to reduce the time required for automation tasks.  


  • Version Control  

Ansible playbooks can be stored and managed in version control systems like Git. This allows for collaboration, versioning, and tracking changes to the automation code, making it easier to maintain and share configurations among team members.  


  • Community and Ecosystem   

Ansible provides a rich ecosystem of modules that cover a wide range of automation tasks, from system configuration to cloud provisioning. Additionally, you can extend Ansible’s functionality by creating custom modules or integrating it with other tools through plugins. That’s why Ansible benefits from a large and active community. Numerous resources are available, including official documentation, community-driven guides, and support forums. Ansible’s ecosystem offers a rich collection of roles, playbooks, and modules the community contributed, helping accelerate automation development.  



What can you use Ansible for?   

Ansible is a very versatile automation platform, which is why it is popular among IT specialists. Because of this, it can be used for many different tasks, which can benefit from automation and do not require user interaction. This includes tasks such as:  


  • Ansible for DevOps    

Ansible for DevOps is a popular choice since it can be used for orchestration, automation, or management of IT structures. Ansible automation platform can be reliably used to make DevOps easier by automating the implementation of internally developed apps. By using Ansible for DevOps, your organization can significantly improve its app deployment while at the same time maintaining scalability for possible future projects.  


  • Configuration management   

Ansible can be used to change configurations on applications and devices quickly. By using the automation capabilities of Ansible, your IT team can easily manage many different apps with Ansible modules. Updating individual configurations and policies can take hours or days, and any misconfiguration can cause issues with security or compliance. By delegating these tasks to Ansible, your organization can ensure its structure remains secure and complies with all the necessary configurations.  


  • Ansible provisioning   

The Ansible is a great choice to improve the efficiency of your app provisioning. Automating the provisioning automation of your infrastructure is a crucial step to automating the life cycle of the necessary apps. Ansible can easily manage this using its system of nodes. It can provide several cloud platforms, network devices, hypervisors, or virtual hosts.  


What are the disadvantages of Ansible?  

Before deciding on using Ansible for your organization’s IT structures, it’s essential to consider its strengths and limitations. While Ansible has many capabilities for automating various processes, it has disadvantages. Some of the rules of Ansible include the following:  


  • Lack of Real-Time Communication  

Ansible relies on a push-based model, where the control node pushes instructions to managed hosts and receives status updates. However, it does not provide real-time communication channels between the control node and managed hosts, which might be limiting for certain use cases that require instant feedback or monitoring of ongoing operations.  


  • Limited Windows Support  

While Ansible can manage Windows hosts through PowerShell remoting, its feature set and module support for Windows systems are less extensive than for Linux and Unix-based systems. This may require additional workarounds or customizations for Windows automation tasks.  


  • Dependencies on External Tools   

Ansible often relies on external tools and modules to perform certain tasks. For example, Ansible uses SSH for remote communication, which requires SSH server configurations on managed hosts. Similarly, interacting with cloud platforms might require installing additional libraries or SDKs, adding complexity to the setup process.  


In conclusion  

Ansible is an excellent choice for small or medium enterprise users looking to automate crucial processes. With its simple Python-based interface, Ansible can significantly improve the overall efficiency of IT operations. Although there are some downsides to employing Ansible, users can expect many of these issues to be fixed in the future. 

11:05 AM, Sep 11


Chief Software Architect

Marcin Kubacki

Chief Software Architect, Member of the Board at Storware, Ph.D. Marcin, sometimes called Mr. V., as a an inventor of Storware vProtect code, joined the company in 2015. In 2016 Marcin earned a Ph.D. at Warsaw University of Technology.